Love what game?

Chris Pope
September 13, 2010

“Tell them I’m through, ‘for love of the game,’ Billy Chapel.”

Clear the mechanism.

Snowstorms, rain, hail, tornado warnings, or maybe it was sunny skies. You drag your net out onto the shovelled street or driveway with a smile on your face. You throw sticks to decide on teams and usually argue on who is playing net.

Ilya Kovalchuk turned down a 12-year, $101 million contract extension from the Atlanta Thrashers.

Imagine what you could do with $100 million.

He wanted to be a free-agent because he thought he was worth more money. That seems to be a way of the times; people determining their own worth in professional sports. Gordie Howe got a leather jacket as a signing bonus when he signed with the Detroit Red Wings and then, over twenty-years later, he made $45,000.

Clear the mechanism.

Teams are decided, pads are strapped on the goalies, it’s decided that it’s going to be a round-robin with the winning team getting chocolate bars or Gatorade from the local corner store bought by the other two teams. Or maybe it was a pick at the other teams stacked collection of hockey cards stuffed into a plastic card holder in a binder where only our idols belonged – crease free of course.

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While he made it clear he didn’t want to stay in Atlanta, despite being given the captaincy and a monster contract offer, new Kovalchuck cards were produced, this time wearing the shirt of the New Jersey Devils.

Maybe he wanted a chance to be on a winning team; a chance to taste the nectar that only Lord Stanley can produce. Or maybe it was because he knew he’d have a better chance at a bigger paycheck – crease free of course.

Clear the mechanism.

The ball – mylec or tennis – is dropped and the games begin. Three games fly by. The finals are set and all teams take a break before the championship begins. Chips and pop are consumed – courtesy of the host’s mother. Some players sit on the curb, some (usually the ousted) fire the ball at the open cage. One player is upset his team didn’t make the final, but acts like he doesn’t care.

Despite being one of the favourites to come out of the Eastern Conference, Kovalchuk and the Devils are ousted in the opening round of the playoffs by the seventh seeded Philadelphia Flyers. He didn’t play like he was supposed to; struggling with only two goals in five games, but likely didn’t care seeing as how he had become a free agent.

Clear the mechanism.

The final happens; it’s a tight match. Some big saves. Some nice goals. Even a fight; tempers calm though. Tied four-four.

“Next goal wins!”

The final goal is scored. Gloves fly off, sticks in the air. The team is mobbing the goaltender and chanting “we are the champions.” The champions claim their prize with little gloating because they know that, come next weekend, they could be on the other end. Next weekend it’s a clean slate. No matter the weather, the time, or the place, they’ll be there. Playing the game they love.

What is supposed to be an off-season instead has Kovalchuk’s name in the news more than his play during the season.

Did we see this when the two top players in the game signed their long-term contracts with the Penguins and Capitals?


Finally, the NHL agrees to the contract. Gloves don’t fly off. Sticks don’t go in the air. No celebrations. No chanting. Because they didn’t win. No one did. Because now, with no motivation until the next contract year, Kovalchuk will just go through the motions. No matter who he’s playing. No matter the time. He gets paid to play the game he’s good at.

Clear the mechanism all you want, Kovalchuk and others like him need to clear their ego.

They need to remember why they dragged their net out onto the shovelled street or driveway with a smile on their face.

Not for the paycheck.

For the love of the game.

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The Author:

Chris Pope